Wives and Daughters Summary
by Elizabeth Gaskell

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Wives and Daughters Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

When Molly Gibson’s widower father, the town doctor, marries the widow Clare Hyacinth Kirkpatrick, Molly loses her preeminent position in her father’s household and acquires a frivolous, silly stepmother as well as a stepsister with whom she has little in common. The marriage is undertaken for practical reasons on both sides; the father thinks that his motherless young daughter needs the protection and tutelage of a mature woman, and the widow is grateful for a rise in social status and material comfort in place of the struggle to make a living as a governess. The marriage is not a happy one because of differences in temperament and intellect.

Molly and Cynthia, the two young girls, do become fast friends, however, although they are very different in character and personality. Each girl admires the other for qualities she herself lacks. Cynthia captivates Roger Hamley, the younger son of Squire Hamley, and they become unofficially engaged just before Roger leaves England to do two years of scientific research in Africa. Molly never speaks of her own love for Roger.

While Roger is gone, Cynthia writes to him to break off the relationship because she realizes that she does not love the young scientist; moreover, she receives a more advantageous proposal from Walter Henderson, a young lawyer whom she met while visiting relatives in London.

Squire Hamley counts on his son Osborne, Roger’s older brother and the heir to the Hamley estate, to save the family’s declining fortunes by marrying into a wealthy family. Osborne is, however, secretly married to a penniless Frenchwoman whom he met in France. When he develops a heart ailment, Osborne returns home ill and depressed. He...

(The entire section is 434 words.)